Just News from Center X – June 7, 2019

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Teaching, Leading, and Social Justice

Joe Biden debuts education plan, then touts it to teachers’ union

Katie Glueck, The New York Times
Joseph R. Biden Jr. on Tuesday released the first major policy platform of his campaign, a sweeping education proposal that urges federal investment in low-income schools, supports universal prekindergarten and higher teacher pay, and, he added in a public appearance later, opposes for-profit charter schools. But in keeping with his more moderate tendencies, the education plan also focused on priorities that are widely accepted in Democratic circles, appearing to stop short of the bolder promises from some of his campaign rivals and skirting entirely a number of the more controversial issues in education policy. Mr. Biden’s campaign introduced the proposal ahead of a town hall event in Houston on Tuesday evening with an influential teachers’ union, the American Federation of Teachers, which represents an important Democratic-leaning constituency and a coveted endorsement for Democratic presidential candidates.

Failure of L.A. school tax measure could put resources and alliances to the test

Howard Blume, Los Angeles Times
Mayor Eric Garcetti, L.A. schools Supt. Austin Beutner and other high-profile backers of a property tax to benefit public schools needed to get two-thirds support for Measure EE to pass. They seemed confident they could get at least a solid majority. But when the votes were counted, only a paltry 46% of voters backed the proposed parcel tax. The stunning setback for the Los Angeles Unified School District in Tuesday’s special election raises profound questions for a diverse coalition of unions, nonunion charter schools, disparate community groups, and city politicians and school district officials. District leaders have to decide if and when to try again and what to do differently. “I am surprised and disappointed by the final tally,” said UCLA education professor John Rogers. He had expected the share of yes votes to reach the high 50s. “The degree of the defeat means that the coalition faces even more of a stark future than if it had been a close election. The coalition lost not just the election but political capital.” In Rogers’ view, opponents conveyed “an inaccurate but persuasive message” that the school system is dysfunctional. “Spreading that idea harmed public education in the city as well as the prospects for the coalition that promoted Measure EE,” he said.

Overlooked: How teacher training falls short for English-learners and students with IEPs

Corey Mitchell, Education Week
English-language learners and students with disabilities—groups of children once taught in isolated classrooms with specially trained instructors—spend more time in general education classrooms now than in years past. But many general education teachers are not equipped with the necessary skills and knowledge to meet the needs of English-learners or students with disabilities, researchers have found. It’s an issue that could be tackled at least partly through school and districtwide professional development, but the knowledge teachers need does not always reach them. “There’s been a large increase in students who come from diverse backgrounds that are in schools and unfortunately, in many instances, teachers aren’t adequately prepared to address their needs,” said Jennifer Flores Samson, an associate professor and the chairwoman of special education at the Hunter College School of Education in New York City.

Language, Culture, and Power

District urged principals to move a minimum number of English-learners out of program

Will Huntsberry, Voice of San Diego
Choosing when to move students who are not native English speakers out of their language support program is a delicate decision. If it is done too soon, the student could begin to lose academic ground quickly. If it isn’t done soon enough, the student may languish behind for years. Officials have placed special emphasis on moving students out of English-learner status as quickly as possible in San Diego Unified School District. A newly obtained memo sheds light on their strategy: Central office staff pushed principals “to reclassify a minimum of 75%” of eligible English-learners, according to documents obtained by Voice of San Diego through a Public Records Act request. The memo was reviewed by state compliance officers, who recently found some of the district’s guidelines for reclassifying English-learners were too subjective and that the district was not adequately consulting with parents, as required by state law.

Most classroom teachers feel unprepared to support students with disabilities

Corey Mitchell, Education Week
Less than 1 in 5 general education teachers feel “very well prepared” to teach students with mild to moderate learning disabilities, including ADHD and dyslexia, according to a new survey from two national advocacy groups. The survey found that only 30 percent of general education teachers feel “strongly” that they can successfully teach students with learning disabilities—and only 50 percent believe those students can reach grade-level standards. Overall, the findings depict a teaching corps that considers itself ill-equipped to meet the needs of millions of children with disabilities in the nation’s public K-12 schools and clings to misconceptions about student learning and attention issues. In compiling their report, the two groups—National Center for Learning Disabilities and Understood.org—surveyed a nationally representative sample of 1,350 teachers; convened teacher focus groups in California, Ohio, and North Carolina; researched teacher certification requirements in all 50 states; and distilled the findings from 150 academic articles to learn more about effective teaching methods for students with disabilities.

Simpson: How do we know if school discipline is fair? Listen to student voices — 60% of kids think it isn’t

Jimmy Simpson Jr., The 74
The past decade of federal, state and local advocacy aimed at improving school discipline outcomes is encouraging. Some studies show rates of suspensions in decline, and the list of resources available to help educators rethink discipline policies is lengthening. Yet recent federal civil rights data suggest there’s still a lot of work to do. According to a 2018 report from the Government Accountability Office, black students make up around 15 percent of all public school students but constitute close to 40 percent of all suspensions. The nonprofit I work for, YouthTruth, helps schools measure nonacademic indicators related to school climate and academic achievement. We wanted to know: What do students, parents/guardians and school staff think about discipline and fairness in their schools? To answer this question, we analyzed the survey responses of more than 104,000 students, parents/guardians, and instructional and noninstructional school staff members across 132 secondary schools. Here are some key things we learned (click here to read the full report).

Whole Children and Strong Communities

Lost Days: Inside one rural California district’s effort to combat chronic absenteeism [PART 2]

David Washburn, EdSource
It’s Dena Kapsalis’ job to fight chronic absenteeism in Paradise Unified, a school district in Northern California’s rural Butte County. And she does whatever it takes. She’s driven her minivan along the hike-and-bike trail behind Paradise High School in search of homeless students who were known to congregate there. There was the time a student of hers was going to skip school because he had spent the night at his girlfriend’s house and didn’t have clean clothes. So, she picked him up, drove him to his home in Stirling City — a mountain community in the far reaches of the district — and waited outside while he showered and changed. “She’s famous for driving up to Stirling City and knocking on doors,” said Melissa Crick, a Paradise Unified School Board member. “She’ll ask them: ‘Why are you not at school today? What do you need? How can I help?’” These questions are at the core of the mindset change that Kapsalis and others say is needed for educators to have any chance at reducing high rates of chronic absenteeism, which occurs in schools everywhere but is especially prevalent in rural areas. It means adopting what they call a “trauma-informed approach” to working with students that puts their behavior and performance in the context of their home lives and the trauma they’ve experienced. It is something that Paradise Unified has embraced in recent years.

Crowdsourcing mental health

Mimi Ko Cruz, Connected Learning Alliance
It is rare when a young person, suffering from stress and depression, asks an adult for help. But, seeking assistance through digital means is not uncommon. Young people don’t want to be told what to do, says psychologist Stephen Schueller. That’s why seeking information online, either through peers or apps can be useful and helpful, especially for those not prone to seeking professional help in the form of one-on-one therapy. Research shows that nearly 70 million Americans each year experience depression or anxiety. And, 76 percent of 14- to 22-year-olds with depressive symptoms use health-related mobile apps, according to a recent survey by Hopelab “Some of the things these young people said they were particularly interested in were connecting with other people with similar concerns or reading other people’s stories. It seems youth really want to find ways to connect to each other around areas of need,” says Schueller, a UCI assistant professor of psychological sciences, who is working on developing and evaluating a technology-based intervention that uses crowdsourcing to help provide evidence-based intervention strategies for anxiety and depression. Crowdsourcing is the practice of mobilizing people online to work together and accomplish tasks.

Almost a third of teenagers sleep with their phones, survey finds

Sydney Johnson, EdSource
Teddy bears have met their match: cell phones. Sixty-eight percent of teenagers reported that they keep their mobile devices within reach at night, a telephone and online survey released Tuesday by the nonprofit Common Sense Media found. Nearly a third (29 percent) of teens sleep with smartphones, cell phones or tablets in their beds. Parents — 74 percent of them — are even more likely to have mobile devices within reach at night. But just 12 percent of parents said they kept them in bed. The findings show that teens and parents both have “an intense relationship with their phones at night,” said Michael Robb, report author and senior director of research at Common Sense. That is of concern to researchers in light of other studies that have connected mobile device use before bed with poor sleep. One review of 20 studies, for example, found that access to and use of mobile devices at bedtime were associated with “inadequate sleep quality” and “poor sleep quantity,” as well as “excessive sleepiness” during the day.

Access, Assessment, and Advancement

Interactive map: California’s chronically absent students in 2017-18

Yuxuan Xie and Daniel J. Willis, EdSource

Online credit recovery fuels higher grad rates, but learning suffers, report finds

Alyson Klein, Education Week
Schools are increasingly turning to online-only credit recovery courses to help students who have fallen behind in their regular classes graduate on time. The good news: These courses do seem to help students graduate on time and even enroll in college. The not-so-great news? These students don’t seem to be learning as much as their peers in regular, face-to-face classes. That’s the conclusion of a new “working paper” released this month, and an article published earlier this year in the American Educational Research Journal. The researchers—from Vanderbilt University and the University of Wisconsin—did a longitudinal study of an unnamed large urban school district in the Midwest, which started offering online course taking opportunities in 2010, generally to help students who had fallen behind catch up. By the 2016-17 school year, 40 percent of seniors had taken at least one course through the online system.

The soul-crushing cost of college in California, explained

Felicia Mello, CALmatters
It’s not your grandparents’—or even your parents’—higher-ed system. A young Californian of the Baby Boomer generation, bolstered by the post-war economic boom and the state’s investment in public higher education, could often emerge from college with little to no debt and a clear path to a living wage and homeownership. Today’s California students, by contrast, graduate with an average of more than $20,000 in student debt. California offers more generous financial aid than most other states, but gone are the days of taking free college for granted. Studies show many students struggle even to afford food and housing. How exactly did college costs get so high, and what are policymakers proposing we do about it? Read on.

Inequality, Poverty, Segregation

Lost days: Poverty, isolation drive students away from school in California’s rural districts [PART 1]

David Washburn, EdSource
It was a wonder Kaylee Adkins ever made it to school. The daughter of two heavy drug users, she lived a transient childhood — rarely staying for long in the same apartment, let alone the same school. She hardly saw her father who was in jail or prison throughout much of her childhood. Kaylee’s circumstances caused her to routinely miss school days from the time she was in kindergarten through her high school years. The state now identifies students like her, who miss at least 10 percent of the school year, as “chronically absent.” It’s a problem that impacts school districts everywhere but is most acute in rural areas and small towns. When Kaylee, now 20, was in grade school, her mother’s pattern was to stay in a place until the eviction notice came, then run. Sometimes it would be to another part of Oroville, a rural town of about 15,000 people in Northern California’s Butte County where her family was from. Other times it would be out of state to small towns in Texas or West Virginia.

How we segregate schools now: A 2019 reality check in four charts

Kevin Mahnken, The 74
With the 65th anniversary of Brown v. Board of Education at hand, it’s a good time to reflect on the racial dynamics at work in American schools. Here’s what we know: The United States is now more racially diverse than it has ever been, almost entirely because of a decades-long surge in the number of Hispanic students across the country. Yet according to many experts, our schools don’t reflect that diversity. Indeed, by some measures, black and white students are now as segregated from one another as they have been at any time since the 1960s. (I wrote about these startling numbers in greater depth prior to the anniversary: “Will Schools EVER Be Integrated?”) So what’s really going on here?

How school segregation affects whether a black student gets labeled as having a disability

Matt Barnum, Chalkbeat
In Florida schools where almost all students are black or Hispanic, 13% of black students were classified as having a disability. Yet in schools where the vast majority of students were white, nearly 22% of black students get classified that way. It’s a striking divide, and one that researchers say probably shouldn’t exist. The more accurate number is likely somewhere in between. The result: Lots of black students may be going without services they need, and other black students are getting services they don’t — and potentially being pulled out of regular classrooms in the process. Those are the findings of a new study looking at special education in the country’s third-biggest state, one that adds important new context to an ongoing debate about race and special education.

Public Schools and Private $

Drive to cap California charter school growth stalls

Louis Freedberg, EdSource
Earlier this year, it looked like California charter schools faced a mortal threat in the face of the first serious attempts in the state Legislature to put a cap on their growth. But those efforts have fizzled, at least for this year. Unhappiness with charter schools was an underlying theme in the two high-profile teacher strikes earlier this year in Los Angeles and Oakland. As a result of the strike, the Los Angeles Unified school board passed a resolution calling on Sacramento to impose a temporary moratorium on expansion in the district. Oakland Unified issued a similar call, as did the nearby West Contra Costa Unified School District, which has also seen rapid growth in charter school enrollments in recent years. In the wake of these calls, the state’s major teachers unions backed two bills in the Legislature that would have imposed a cap on charter expansion in the state. In the Senate, SB 756, introduced by Sen. Maria Elena Durazo, D-Los Angeles, formerly a prominent labor leader in Los Angeles, would have imposed a five-year moratorium on any new charter schools. And in the Assembly, Assemblyman Kevin McCarty, D-Sacramento, introduced AB 1506 to place a cap on charter schools at the number in operation on Jan. 1, 2020. His bill would have allowed for new charters in a district as long as they didn’t push the charter enrollment to over 10 percent of the district’s total student enrollment.

Online charter schools in L.A. and San Diego counties to close after indictments

Kristen Taketa, Morgan Cook, and Jaclyn Cosgrove, Los Angeles Times
Eleven people have been indicted on criminal charges of conspiracy, personal use of public money without legal authority, grand theft and financial conflict of interest in connection with a network of California charter schools. At the center of the allegations are leaders of the charter school management corporation A3 Education, a Newport Beach firm whose leaders control 13 charter schools across the state, according to an indictment filed May 17. A3’s chairman, Sean McManus, and president, Jason Schrock, essentially owned and operated the charter schools at the same time that A3 contracted with those schools, according to the indictment. McManus and Schrock operated multiple businesses that charged their own charter schools millions of dollars for services. Then they channeled money from those businesses into their own charitable trust and personal bank accounts, according to the indictment. A3 Education and the businesses affiliated with McManus and Schrock together have invoiced at least $83.3 million from the 13 charter schools, according to the indictment.

$100-million gift to UCLA shows growing role of private donors in public universities

Teresa Watanabe, Los Angeles Times
Deep in the engineering labs at UCLA, students and faculty are hard at work on the future. In one lab, Jacob Rosen, a professor of medical robotics, shows off robots that can stitch up wounds and help rehabilitate stroke victims. Other faculty and students are developing a carbon-neutral concrete to mitigate the effects of climate change, a new type of insulin to protect diabetics from potentially perilous hypoglycemia, and portable treatment systems to purify contaminated groundwater for drinking. Drawn by such cutting-edge work, about 26,000 students apply to UCLA Samueli School of Engineering each year — but the school can accommodate only 775 of them. That is about to change. On Tuesday, UCLA announced a $100-million gift to expand the engineering school from Henry Samueli, who cofounded semiconductor and software firm Broadcom Inc., and his wife, Susan. It is the school’s largest ever private donation. The gift will allow the engineering school to do what diminished state funding no longer does: significantly grow to meet the demands for training in some of the world’s hottest career fields.

Other News of Note

‘When They See Us’ transforms its victims into heroes

Salamishah Tillet, The New York Times
I was 13, a mere year younger than Kevin Richardson and Raymond Santana, two of the boys who made up Central Park Five, when they were wrongfully convicted of beating and raping the white female jogger Trisha Meili in 1989. I had just returned to the United States after living in my father’s country of Trinidad and Tobago for three years, and the televised melodramas that would cement my coming-of-age as a black woman — Anita Hill testifying at Clarence Thomas’s confirmation hearings, the videotape of Los Angeles police officers beating Rodney King, the O.J. Simpson Bronco chase — had yet to happen. Back in 1989, I was still a novice to the rules and rituals of American racism. But, like so many other African-American and Latino kids who lived in the New York metropolitan area, I was about to get a primer: The Central Park jogger case. Because of my proximity to that trial, I thought I’d be prepared to watch “When They See Us,” Ava DuVernay’s four-part Netflix mini-series, debuting Friday, that depicts the horrifying events surrounding the case, and the excruciating toll the public persecution and swift conviction had on these teenage boys and their families. Instead, it took me two days to watch the first episode, and after each pause, I had to convince myself that I could sit through the next scene.